The culmination of the season for junior figure skaters — the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships — will take place from February 27-March 6 in Gangneung, South Korea. In ice dance, 33 teams are on the roster, which is a respectable turnout. Unfortunately, having both the Junior and Senior World Championships in Asia has meant that smaller federations, mainly from the Americas and Europe, have had to cut entries because of cost.
A new qualifying round this season means that the non-direct-entry skaters (predominantly lower-ranked and new teams) must first compete their free skate to see if they advance to the main competition. A total of 25 teams will skate their short dance, 14 of which are direct entries. The remaining teams (19, at press time) will fight for the other 11 spots.
Six nations have all their ice dancers designated as direct entries straight to the short dance. Both the United States and Russia have three teams, Canada has two, and the Czech Republic, Germany, and Great Britain each have one team. This accounts for 11 of the 14 spots. (Hungary had a direct-entry team on an earlier version of the roster, but the team is no longer listed.)
Three countries — France, Italy, and Ukraine — have one team who is a direct entry and one who must qualify. Those three direct entries, added to the 11 “full squad advances,” make the 14 automatic qualifiers.
The 19 teams who must compete in Monday’s preliminary round include the above-mentioned French, Italian, and Ukrainian, plus the remaining countries on the roster — all of whom have only one team entered in Korea. Ironically, Spain’s Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz (pictured, right), the highest-ranked junior team on the ISU 2010-2011 season rankings (yes, higher than the Russians and the Americans!), must compete in the qualifying rounds. Chances are very good that they will nab one of the 11 remaining spots for the short dance. They recently competed as seniors at the European Championships, where they placed 15th.
Heading into the World Junior Championships in 2010, Russia’s Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin were poised to take the title after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, but had to settle for bronze. Fast-forward to 2011. Monko & Khaliavin are now two-time JGP Final champions and have won all their international events this season. Their personal best score of 155.04 is far higher than any of their competitors’ best scores. Coming home from Korea without the gold medal would be a shocking turn of events for this couple.
With the silver and bronze medalists from the Junior Grand Prix Final (Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin and Alexandra Stepanova & Andrei Bukin, respectively) not on the Russian Junior World team, this gives a little extra breathing room for the overwhelming favorites. The Russian Federation had already planned to send the top two from their junior national championships, with the third team being named by the Federation. In the end, they chose to send all three junior national medalists, rather than substitute the bronze medalists with either of the other teams up for consideration (Sinitsina & Zhiganshin, who did not compete due to illness and Stepanova & Bukin, who finished fourth).
While the gold medal appears to be a lock, the remaining medals, points, prize money, and bragging rights are not. Fellow Russians Ekaterina Pushkash & Jonathan Guerreiro, national junior silver medalists, look like the next in line for a medal, with a season’s best score of 136.80. They finished in sixth place at the 2010 Junior Worlds and this season, they earned a gold and silver medal on the JGP circuit. At the JGP Final, their strong, fluid short dance helped them nab a fourth-place finish.
The U.S. contingent of three World Junior rookie teams is headlined by 2011 U.S. junior champions Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely. Lichtman & Copely finished fifth at the JGP Final, just two points behind Pushkash & Guerreiro. The team’s personal best score of 129.96 was achieved at the JGP in Austria earlier this season, and was eight points higher than the score they posted at the Final. The podium is certainly within this team’s reach.
Although they were alternates to the JGP Final, Tiffany Zahorski & Alexis Miart of France won a silver medal in Ostrava, where they posted their personal best of 127.82. That total potentially puts them within reach of Lichtman & Copely if they hit their programs this week.
Though they finished sixth at the JGP Final, Russians Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin, are also contenders for the podium. A new team this season, the national junior bronze medalists were a surprising third pick from Russia’s deep field. On this year’s JGP circuit, they earned a gold and bronze and finished only three points behind Lichtman & Copely at the Final.
Also in the mix are Anastasia Galyeta & Alexei Shumski of Ukraine. Despite finishing seventh at their first JGP Final this year, Galyeta & Shumski’s personal best score of 124.65 puts them only a few points out of the realm of the top teams. They will be making their third trip to Junior Worlds. In 2009, they placed 23rd after only a few months of partnering each other and then jumped up to eighth place in 2010.
Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, Canadian junior champions, are dark horses in Korea. Orford & Williams, a new team this season, took bronze at the JGP in Sheffield, England, and fifth in Ostrava. Their marks have consistently increased at each event this season, and they have improved quite a bit since their 120-point outing in Ostrava in the fall.
Teams that could also threaten if any of the top couples falter are Lauri Bonacorsi & Travis Mager, U.S. national junior silver medalists, who earned their second JGP bronze medal in Brasov, Romania, this year. They train in Aston, Penn., with medal contenders Pushkash & Guerreiro. Fellow Americans Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, the national junior bronze medalists, won their first international medal, a silver, at this year’s JGP in Courchevel, France. A fourth-place finish in Japan earned them the second alternate position for the Final.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France previously finished 22nd at Junior Worlds. They took the bronze at JGP Austria and finished just off the podium in Courchevel. They are the second-ranked team for France, so despite being third alternates for the JGP Final, they will need to qualify through the preliminary round.
Canadians Kelly Oliveira & Jordan Hockley, national junior silver medalists, skated in two JGPs this season, picking up fifth- and sixth-place finishes.
In addition to Papadakis & Cizeron, a number of teams will be making repeat appearances at Junior Worlds.
Ramona Elsener & Florian Roost of Switzerland will be visiting Junior Worlds for the fifth time; their highest finish was 21st, which they achieved their first time out in 2007. National champions, they also competed as seniors at Europeans, where they finished 19th. Elsener & Roost and Hurtado & Diaz are the two teams that have taken on the challenge of having two completely different short dances, one for the junior level and one for the senior level. In past years, teams competing at both levels had to learn extra compulsories, but this year, the challenge is even greater.
Teams from the Czech Republic, France and China will be skating at Junior Worlds for the second time. The Chinese team Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu finished 25th last year; this year, they took sixth place at JGP Japan. Karolina Prochazkova & Michal Ceska, Czech national champions, finished 26th last year. They have made numerous international appearances, including six JGPs, finishing in the top 10.
The preliminary round free dance will be contested on Feb. 28, the first day of competition in Korea. Qualified teams will skate the short dance in the afternoon on March 2 and the free dance in the evening on March 4.
In addition to the prestige and perks of a podium placement in Gangneung, the final standings will have a major impact in the 2011 Junior Grand Prix season. The top three countries in placements this week will each earn two slots at each JGP event next season. It seems close to a guarantee that Russia will finish among the top three countries. The next two countries will likely be decided between the United States, Canada, and Ukraine. Only the placement of the country’s top team counts. So, for example, if the final standings were 1-RUS, 2-RUS, 3-USA, 4-RUS, 5-USA, 6-CAN, 7-UKR, the top three teams would be Russia (1st), USA (3rd), and Canada (6th).